Only a few years ago, Aston Martin would rock up to an international motor show with not much more to announce to the world than a new sticker set for its most affordable model. That actually happened. For the Geneva Motor Show in 2014 Aston’s grand unveiling was the Vantage N430, indistinguishable from earlier versions of the now decade-old car except for a few flashes of contrasting body trim.
Beneath the skin there was a fraction more power and also slightly revised suspension, but to anybody looking on from the side of the stand, Aston seemed to have travelled all the way to Switzerland from the West Midlands to pull the covers off some jazzy door mirrors.
How times change. If there is a more exciting car manufacturer on the planet today than Aston Martin I would very much like to know which company that is, because quite apart from launching a standalone luxury EV brand in Lagonda; gearing up for production at a new factory in South Wales of what seems likely to be the most desirable super-SUV on the market in the DBX; rolling out a number of the best grand tourers you can buy in the DB11, the DBS Superleggera and their derivatives; recreating some of the most beautiful vintage sports cars ever built (occasionally with functioning James Bond-style gadgets, no less) and confirming it’ll compete at the highest level of sports car racing once again from 2020, Aston Martin is also in the midst of developing not one but two ground-breaking hypercars, the Valkyrie and Valhalla. It’s almost too much to bear.
WHERE THE VANTAGE FITS IN
But all of that headline-grabbing stuff is only sustainable if Aston is selling plenty of series production road cars as well. As its entry-level and best-selling model, this new Vantage therefore has a huge amount of weight on its muscly shoulders. It owes nothing at all to the model that came before it, sitting on a new platform with an entirely new drivetrain, and clothed in Aston’s new and perhaps more challenging design language. It’s a rival to the Porsche 911 Carrera S, but at £120,900 it is substantially more expensive. It is very much the sports car of Aston Martin’s range, so while it does need to be usable day-to-day (like the 911), it should also go and feel like a nimble and agile sports coupe, not a long-legged and refined grand tourer. It should be an up-at-dawn sort of car.
Although it is all-new, it does have plenty in common with the previous Vantage. Both are strict two seaters, for instance, and both position their V8 engines as low and as far back in their chassis as possible for the best weight distribution. But the new model swaps out the old car’s normally-aspirated 4.7-litre V8 for a smaller, 4.0-litre unit with a pair of turbochargers. The engine is supplied by Mercedes-AMG and is undoubtedly one of the best turbocharged V8s currently in production, blessed with exceptionally good throttle response, a very wide power band and just the sort of thunderous soundtrack you’d hope for of a V8 sports car. Power is rated at 503bhp and torque at 505lb ft, both of which are so much higher than the old engine managed there’s really no comparison.
This latest Vantage will be available with a third pedal and a manual gearlever soon enough, but for now you can only buy it with an eight-speed automatic. But it’s the same ZF-supplied auto that Bentley, BMW and Alfa Romeo use, and we already know it’s very effective. Drive is delivered to the rear axle via an electronically-controlled limited-slip differential, a piece of hardware that can switch from fully locked to fully open in a fraction of a second to best juggle traction and stability. The previous Vantage boasted nothing so sophisticated. On that note, this model also gets adaptive dampers as standard and a whole raft of switchable driving modes.
Just like the engine, the car’s infotainment system is borrowed from Mercedes. Albeit last-generation Mercedes. Aston Martin has always lagged behind the class best on that front and the likes of the 911 and Audi R8 have far more advanced infotainment systems, but the gap has never been smaller and the Vantage does at long last have a system that works and is intuitive to use. The interior as a whole is a mixed bag, because while the basics such as seating position and build quality are all decent enough, the exceptionally busy centre console design gets no prettier the longer you stare at it.
DRIVING THE ASTON MARTIN VANTAGE
The Vantage’s chassis strikes a fine balance between being well-supported and agile, but not so crashy and unyielding over bumps that you’d rather get out and walk. In normal driving the steering is light and the gearbox very smooth, all of which makes this new model so much easier to use everyday than the old one. And when you dial it all up and switch in Sport+ or Track mode, it is faster point-to-point by an order of magnitude.
On a twisty B-road, it does plenty of important things very well. It has lots of grip, good balance, strong traction, accurate steering, powerful brakes and more besides. You can choose exactly how firm you want the dampers to be regardless of your chosen driving mode as well, so the suspension does deal with bumpy roads convincingly. But the car also feel heavy (with fuel and a driver on board it weighs no less than 1,700kg) and when the road rises and falls, you’re well aware of the suspension working overtime to keep that mass in check. And the gearbox, responsive and quick-shifting in other installations, is sometimes rather too hesitant.
Although the 2014 Vantage N430 arrived at a time when Aston Martin’s future looked worryingly bleak, it was also unbelievably good to drive. It steered beautifully, sounded wonderful, felt incredibly well-poised along a tricky road and was engaging to drive in a way this new model sadly isn’t. But it was also a nuisance around town and its infotainment system was worse than hopeless. The new Vantage may have lost some of the old car’s B-road magic, but in every other respect it is leaps and bounds ahead.
Aston Martin Vantage
Price: from £120,900. As tested £156,220
0-62mph: 3.6 seconds
Top speed: 195mph
Fuel economy: 26.8mpg (combined)
HISTORY GUIDE: ASTON MARTIN VANTAGE
1977 V8 Vantage
Aston Martin has been using the Vantage designation since the Fifties, but it wasn’t until 1977 that it applied it to a standalone model rather than a high-performance derivative of an existing machine. The original V8 Vantage was a British muscle car, all thundering eight-cylinder motor and broad shoulders. With 390bhp, the Vantage one of the fastest cars on the road when it was launched.
Aston Martin reprised the Vantage name in 1992. This latest model wasn’t quite a standalone car, but a go-faster version of the company’s Virage flagship – just without a Virage badge anywhere to be seen. With a twin-supercharged V8 engine, the V600 had as much as 600bhp while the ‘Le Mans’ runout special, with a fraction more power, would sprint on to 199mph.
2005 V8 Vantage
For so long the Vantage name had been reserved for Aston’s fastest and most exclusive models, but from 2005 onwards the exact opposite was true. The V8 Vantage became the marque’s most affordable model, pitched in line with the definitive premium sports car, the Porsche 911. After a shaky start the V8 Vantage was honed and refined over a number of years to a point where it was as brilliant to drive as it was to look at.
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